Experts tell us that we must break down silos to streamline our activities and make sure our work and investments pay off. But how do we go about actually doing it? Here are practical steps you can take.

It seems like we’ve been talking about breaking down silos for years. And, yes, we’ve already bought into the ethos that silos are bad and that working within silos is ineffective for our organizations and frustrating for our teams. Experts tell us that we must break down silos to streamline our activities and make sure our work and investments pay off. But how do we go about actually doing it?

Evolving how you tackle your enterprise’s initiatives from “silos” to “systems” and from “measuring” to “managing” requires resolve and a strong commitment to both results and incremental progress. Seize this moment (amidst so much progress and forward movement toward a customer-focus in health care) to synchronize your various key organizational initiatives. Here are practical steps you can take. Even if you can only implement to a few of them, you’ll still be “directionally correct.”

Establish a common language and use it across your organization

Make sure that your “voice” is consistent. The way you speak at every interaction with team members should reflect your organization’s culture. For example, if you’re advocating for a culture of compliance or a culture of quality or Star Ratings achievement, everyone in the organization should be able to clearly articulate what that means for the organization as a whole and for themselves as individuals. Remembering to “speak” in your common language at every opportunity, especially when onboarding new team members, to help everyone feel more connected to the organization’s key initiatives. Build collaboration (and expectations for who should be at the table) into the lingo and into the artifacts used to assemble and communicate, such as templates for meeting agendas, presentations, and meeting minutes. What’s more, make sure that even if cross-functional teams are already communicating and collaborating regularly (a feat in and of itself), that the words they’re using mean the same to everyone. In other words, your common language must be encoded into the DNA of your organization, integrated into all routine processes and programs, ensuring that the words are consistent and that everyone agrees on their meaning.

Align performance measures, activities, and budget with the organization’s priorities

Stop measuring success in silos and start measuring across the enterprise to achieve alignment. Measuring at the enterprise level may be a paradigm shift for many organizations that are accustomed to measuring performance within specific program areas or business units (hence the silos), but it’s necessary for success. That means that goals and objectives in every department should support the organization’s key initiatives. To do this, align each team member’s goals to business unit goals, and the business unit’s goals to the broader organizational goals. Once you’ve aligned your goals, ensure that you build in support across the enterprise to achieve them. That may require that you reprioritize your investments in time, money, or resources.

Goal alignment ensures that everyone works together to carry out the organization’s overall strategy. It gets everyone singing in tune from the same song sheet. What’s more, when everyone’s goals are aligned, each person understands his or her role within the bigger picture and how individual contributions make a difference. In turn, this helps team members understand which tasks should take priority over other less important tasks. Organizations that do this well, achieve enormous things together. Those that don’t, unfortunately, have a harder time making the big leaps necessary to oversee efforts that require significant sustained customer focus, such as Star ratings success.

Create clear lines of accountability across all levels of the organization

Start at the top. The leadership team must first align on the key initiatives as well as the strategies by which the organization will achieve them. Goal setting and alignment starts here as well. It’s important that this group agrees on clear cut objectives, with targeted, strategic goals that support the organization’s vision. Leadership’s ability to articulate the vision will carry the organization forward, even when the going gets tough and especially when unrelenting effort is required for longer periods of time. The more straightforward the goals, the easier it will be for the team to come together around shared objectives, no matter how aspirational.

Once leadership is aligned, ensure that they’re conveying the expectation for collaboration to achieve the goals to their downstream teams. To promote accountability, connect the enterprise’s goals with the business conducted at every meeting, one-on-one, and performance review. Ensure that all key company projects and decisions support the underlying goals and avoid taking on initiatives that don’t support or are counter to the goals. Seize every opportunity to encourage silo-busting behavior at all levels of the organization. That means recognizing, celebrating, and rewarding teams and individuals that raise their hand to cooperate with others to reach the goals or that remove barriers for others along the way, even when they’re not directly responsible for the outcome.

Create an environment where collaboration thrives and silos wither

To speed up silo-busting across the enterprise create structural processes that synchronize and coordinate the flow of customer-focused information and activities across all business units. Centralizing these functions (or creating cross-functional groups), as opposed to housing redundant tasks within multiple business units, focuses the organization on the needs of the customer as opposed to the specialization of each team.

Next, ensure your company culture, incentives, and how you assign authority promote cooperation. Make your expectations clear by incentivizing and promoting individuals, supervisors, managers, directors, and leaders that get things done through inclusion and cooperation and by counseling or sidelining those who are not team players.

Direct investments in time and budget to ensure that team members at all levels can develop the collaborative skillsets necessary to deliver the customer-focused solutions that support enterprise goals. Make sure new hires know the goals and their role in achieving them as well as where to go for resources and support. Be sure to invest in continued training and development beyond the onboarding process as well as in the tools team members need to perform effectively. Creating this supportive environment will position teams to better align their work with the enterprise goals.

Ready, Set, Go!

Resist the urge to reject goals that are too aspirational or that seem out of reach. Ordinary goals lead to ordinary results; extraordinary goals lead to extraordinary results. To successfully achieve “moonshot-sized” goals, create a discipline for celebrating the milestones that must be reached along the way. Recognizing incremental progress while keeping a steady eye on the big goals is crucial to achieving big things.

Finally, as you execute on your benefit design, quality programs, operational structure, resource allocation, and future investment, commit to implementing some of the above silo-busting strategies wherever you can. Doing so will go a long way toward aligning your organization’s key initiatives with the promise of customer focus, the ultimate key to delivering on member retention, higher satisfaction, and improved health outcomes, all factors that lead to continued Star ratings success.


About the author

Ana Handshuh, principal at CAT5 Strategies, is a government programs executive with expertise in creating and implementing corporate programs for the health care industry. Her background includes quality, core measures, care management, benefit design and bid submission, accreditation, regulatory compliance, revenue management, communications, community-based care management programs and technology integration. Handshuh currently serves on the board of the Resource Initiative and Society for Education (RISE) and is the chair of RISE's Quality & Revenue Community. She is a sought after speaker on the national health care circuit in the areas of quality, Star ratings, care management, member and provider engagement, and revenue management. Her recent consultancy roles have included assisting organizations create programs to address the unmet care management needs in the highest risk strata of membership, document their processes and procedures, achieve accreditation status, design and submit government program bids, institute corporate-wide programs and create communications strategies and materials.